Offering Prayer Or Puja Banned At International Border

Man and woman being gregarious can neither live an isolated life nor resist from taking part in ceremonies or festivals. Each year, all the people of this Indian sub-continent are engaged in celebrating festivals such as ‘Kali Puja’ and ‘Diwali.’

The populace of Bangladesh, especially the Hindu community of Sanatan Religion, dwelling along the India Bangladesh International Border (IBIB) areas, come to the International Border Village (IBV) at Gormoholi. Gormoholi is controlled by the English Bazaar Police Station (PS) in the Malda district of Eastern Indian State, West Bengal, that stands just adjacent to their villages, to celebrate the festival together.

Border Kalipuja Malda 01
Priest is performing or offering puja to the mound of clay, which is seen as Goddess Kali, with the presence of the Hindu populaces of both sides (India and Bangladesh), who have gathered near the Kali Puja premise at India Bangladesh International Border near at Gormoholi village on 16th October, 2009.

Although the ‘two nations principle’ and the International Barbed Wire Fence (IBWBF) have brought a ‘division’ among the peoples of both states, yet at heart, the populace of the two nations have cherish happy moments of enjoying mirth and merriment or pomp and pleasure, which they would enjoy in earlier days, as one. These socio-cultural activities such as different types of prayers, pujas and festivals can never impose separation but always try to bring proximity and pave the path of a healthy and happy atmosphere.

The old idea of ‘one nation theory’ is still in existence among the populace of both countries. The happy moments of getting together and enjoying or celebrating prayers, pujas and festivals always prick the peoples of the two nations, with the thought of expropriation. The peoples of the two nations hope to expunge it. They aren’t wealthy but healthy in their thought of living together. They hope to enjoy all these things, living united, in jocund company.

When the season of puja or festivals comes around, the hearts of the people of both nations start to jump with the thought that they can enjoy them again, as one. At this time, people of both sides can meet their dear and near ones and can exchange their news, with its embedded weal and woe. So, with hope in their hearts, as every year, the people of the two states get up early in the morning and appear beside the IBWBF to offer pujas and to meet their relatives and friends.

“It is true that this ‘system’ or ‘method’ (that is, IBWBF) has led some people to live a life like foreigners. But, in spite of this, by heart, the people of the two countries cherish the theory of ‘one people and one nation’. Their hearts ache for reunion, at least for once a year and for this reason, one intends to meet other, when the season of festivals is in motion. This needed nothing but an opportunity and this is but the ‘union fair’, where the people of the two countries may unite to exchange their words of amity and anxieties. So they get up early in the morning and appear beside the fence, which divides them into two nations,” said the residents of Gormoholi border village, in Malda district.

Seventy-plus-year-old Renubala, an inhabitant of Baliadighi village, in Bangladesh’s Chapai Nababganj district, is one of them. She is found with her other neighbours, with a full basket of flowers and Prosad. Prosad is food offered to a God and Goddess or leaving food tasted by a superior, and Renubala brings it to the IBWBF, to offer it or perform puja to Goddess Kali. Renubala’s daughter Alaka, who was married at IBV Mahodipur in India, came near the Smashan Kali Mandir, the Goddess Kali temple at the crematorium, adjacent to the IBWBF. Alaka came here after one long year with a hope that she could meet her mother. Unfortunately, neither mother nor daughter met each other.

“This Milan Mela (union fair) in Gormoholi village is indeed the oldest one. Further, it has its’ own history. It takes place after the day of Kalipuja. It is at this time, people of the two Bengals get together and assemble at said Gormoholi village fair. Both sides share their weal and woe with love, respect and intimacy during in this particular festival,” mentioned Partho Protim Das, a local journalist of Malda district.

Editor’s Notes: Kalipuja is the worship or adorning ceremony of the Goddess Kali.

The two Bengals are ‘East Bengal’ and ‘West Bengal’. East Bengal became Bangladesh, and West Bengal is a state in India.

“It is a fact that Kalipuja is one of the most important festivals of the Hindu community, while Diwali is a national festival of India. But, at Gormoholi, it takes place in no other place but in its’ Smashan Ghat (that is, Burning place or crematorium) for the last 169 years. After the ‘Partition of 1971’ between East Pakistan (was known as “East Bengal” [that is, locally called “Purbo Bango” or Purbo Bangla, which later renamed as East Pakistan or locally called “Purbo Pakistan” [of West Pakistan, known as “Poshchim Pakistan”] of present Pakistan State and then present Bangladesh after 16th December, 1971) and India, the place for performing Kalipuja is still there. Though, the original altar of the goddess Kali is placed outside of the IBWBF, but today it is inside the IBWBF.

Presently, the Mandir (Temple) of goddess Kali is placed under a Bot Gachh (Banyan Tree) and a rivulet, Mora Bhagirathi, locally also called – Pagla Nadi (River), a tributary of Bhagirathi river in the Malda district, is flowing adjacent to it, around 15 to 20 metres away from the Indian International Border Out Post [IBOP], Ludhia),” said Samir Ghosh, secretary of Mahodipur Samshan Kali Puja Committee (MSKPC), one of the most important initiators of the said puja-cum-fair in IBV-Gormoholi.

Kashinath Ghosh, the priest-cum-president of the MSKPC stated, “Before the erection of IBWBF, peoples of the two countries csme to this particular Pujasthal (that is, where the particular puja is usually celebrated) to worship the goddess. But, after the erection of IBWB, the place for performing Kali puja falls inside of the IBWBF (that is, Indian side). But, it doesn’t put any hindrance for performing the particular puja of the two lands and the natives of the adjacent Bangladeshi hamlets.

International Border Guards (IBG) posted there extend their hands to help people from both sides to perform the puja and enjoy it smoothly, nicely and amicably. In this way, instead of creating any dissociation, the peoples of the two lands meet together and enjoy the festival in a body.”

Sankar Saha, a resident of IBV-Shialmara, in Chapai Nababganj district of Bangladesh, who came here to perform the puja and wanted to enjoy the festival revealed, “This fair is one of the oldest fairs of this region. It has been taking place here for last 169 years with care and luster. The fair generally takes place near the Samshan Ghat, which is situated beyond the IBWBF, on the Bangladesh side. But, today it is arranged inside the IBWBF, on the Indian side. The dwellers of this particular place used to enjoy the fair as well as the Kali Puja festival in presence of the frontier IBGs Border Security Force of India (BSFI) and its counterpart Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), which has been renamed Border Guards of Bangladesh (BGB).

Hindu devotees, especially, from Bangladesh come and remain standing behind the IBWBF from the early morning to the sunset to offer the puja. The Bangladeshi Hindu devotees have to satisfy themselves by handing over the Ful (Flower) and prosad to worship the Goddess Kalimata (Mother Kali) to the BSFI soldiers with their names and packets. Meanwhile, both side peoples usually meet their family members and share each others thoughts. But, when the sun begins to descend beyond the horizon and the puja is over, the BSFI soldiers (specially) return all puja related belongings to the respective Bangladeshi Hindu devotees, who are fretfully waiting behind the fence. After that the peoples of both sides separate from each other for ‘a year,’ with the hope to meet again for next year, and return to their respective shelters, with their neighbours or associates.

Now, it is a sad fact that neither the Indians nor the Bangladeshis enjoy any festival or meet each other properly since the erection of the IBWBF. Because of some anti-social elements, who want to take undue advantage from it, the fair has turned into a forlorn one, due to the so-called fencing-system and as a result, what should be a happy gathering is not.

In a word, due to strong restrictions to participate in the puja festival and the fair, the erection of IBWBF, which is now completed, and the BSFI Jawan (soldiers), who’re posted at this fair area to guard and to patrol the area round-the-clock, the entrance of Bangladeshi Hindu peoples has stopped. They are not only deprived of their prayer but also to offer and receive prosad of goddess Kali. It also keeps them from their friends and relatives and each others’ blessings. As a result of this, the charm and charisma of the fair have started to get submerged.”

“Specially, in this particular puja-cum-fair, the women along with their guardians and other relatives would come to assemble from IBVs of Bangladesh Boliadighi, Chakpara, Firozepur, Shona Mashjid, Kanshat, Shivganj and its adjoining areas Shialmara, Krishnapur, Bolia, Darbarpur, Chowdala, Chakla of Chapai Nababganj district of Bangladesh, as well as the opposite side IBVs of India Gormoholi, Mini Sultanpur, Sahilpur, Kadamtala, Akandobaria, Mahodipur and its adjacent places of Malda district of Indian State, West Bengal.

But, it is fact that apart from IBWBF, the frontier security forces of the two nations – BSFI and BGB, would always prevent both peoples from meeting each other and sharing their weal and woe. The BDR takes special interest in flinging obstacles in the works of exchanging of their own people’s thoughts and union during this ‘Kali Puja’ festival. This is especially true for the Hindu community peoples from Bangladesh IBVs,” alleged Jagannath Saha, a resident of Boliadighi hamlet.

“This puja-cum-fair was earlier observed not far from our BGB camp or IBOP Shona Mashjid, where 39-Battalion of BGB is now posted. But, after the erection of IBWBF in 2005 by the Government of India, it has been celebrated near our counterpart (Indian side) IBOP-Ludhia under Mahodipur Company headquarter of BSFI, which is placed exactly near International Border Pillar Number (IBPN)-184/S.

It is a fact that earlier, in each time of the year, the BGB and BSFI use to issue numbers of ‘special (temporary) pass’ for us, which have allowed us to get entry into Indian territory or main land for paying visit to the Smashan Kali temple, to offer puja and enjoy the festival. But, when in this occasion, the gathering becomes high, the two forces never issued any pass. Notwithstanding that, presently the behaviour and the attitude of the forces have changed totally,” blamed Fitu Sheikh, dweller of Bangladesh IBV, Shona Mashjid.

“In 2008, an untoward incident took place during this Kalipuja festival, which disturbed the peace and tranquility of the place. One of the ‘Bangladeshi’ citizens entered into the festival ground with some fake Indian currency with a view to exchange them for original Indian currency. He was caught red-handed by the BSFI jawan, who then sent him to the Indian West Bengal State Police (IWBSP) custody and subsequently, he was then put under arrest and jailed.

This unfortunate incident spoiled the image and atmosphere of the festival and as a result of that, the festival was shifted to the Indian side of the IBWBF. This put the people living in the Bangladesh part of the IBWBF in trouble and they couldn’t take part in it properly and freely. However, in 2008, a little relief was extended to the people of our part of the IBWBF and as a result of this, many of them got an opportunity to offer prayer or puja or sacrifice by crossing the IBWBF.

Among the villagers, who had taken the opportunity of visiting that festival were our neighbourers – Akhil Mandol, Nibaron Sarkar, Minoti Saha and many others. But, this year nothing could be done because of the rigidity of the rules of the BSFI,” enlightened Intekal Ali, resident of Shona Mashjid under Shivganj Police Station (PS) of Bangladesh on 16th October, 2009.

Supporting these facts, Abdul Gaffur, the company commandant of 39-BN of BGB IBOP or camp of Shona Mashjid, which lies on on the Bangladesh side of the India-Bangladesh International Border told me, “It is a fact that on that year a very small incident occurred but I don’t think it had hampered our relationship with both side populaces. About four or five of our frontier guard soldiers always keep watch on the puja-cum-fair strictly. Even if, the organisers of the Kali puja-cum-fair festival committee of Mahadipur are very helpful, we have helped peoples of both side on that particular puja-cum-fair, like every year.”

But, surprisingly, a section of the peoples of both sides denied the fact and claimed, “It is true that this particular international boundary is branded as a ‘Corridor of Fake Currency’, but at the same time, it is totally false and incorrect that on that particular day of Kali Puja festival the incident happened. It is a pre-plan conspiracy of a ‘circle’, who somehow wants to close this particular puja-cum-union-fair festival for their vested interests and nothing else.”

“Though, the IBWBF has separated them from one another, it cannot snatch away the ‘by heart relations, affections and friendships’ of both side populaces. They would often (especially, during any festivals or ceremonies) get assembled and exchange their thoughts, views and ideas with love, respect and friendship,” expressed local retired teacher-cum-scholar, Nilima Chatterjee of Malda district.

“Look, Sufol Haldar is the caretaker of the Kali puja, but, interesting fact is that generally Brahmin (a cast of Hindu community) priest is required to perform Kalipuja. But, no such Brahmin priest is needed here to perform the same at Mahodipur Smashan Kali Madir (Temple). It is done by the members of the ‘Ghosh’ community (a Bengali Hindu community, who bears the title Ghosh and belongs in the non-Brahmin cast) of Mahodipur. Further, here, Murti (Idol) of the goddess Kali is seen in the form of a mound-of-clay,” informed Joyrajesh Singh, who lives at Mahodipur and has given his sister Mamata Chowdhury in marriage with a Bangladeshi groom at Kansat village, in the Chapai Nababganj district of Bangladesh.

Like Renubala Saha and her daughter, Alaka Saha, who was given in marriage to an Indian groom, these people come every year during this particular time, when the puja takes place. Like Renubala Saha, the Bangladeshi Hindu devotees always come to this particular temple, which is situated near the ‘cremation-ground’ to offer their puja and to meet their near and dear ones. In this context, Renubala Saha, who came here with other villagers to meet her daughter, said, “The goddesses Kali of Mahodipur is a live deity. It was because of her blessings, I got relived from the pain of my knee and this is why its very important on her part to offer this puja to the deity.”

Supporting the fact, another woman, Shanti Saha, who is a native of Boalia village in Bangladesh, requested the BSFI soldiers off and on to give an opportunity to give shape to her craving and for this, she had been standing beside the IBWBF since morning, uttered angrily, “Tara amare jaitei dilo na oipare. Kato asha niya aisilam, puja dekhum ar mayer charane ful dimu ar amar maiyar loge katha kamu…..ta ar hoilo na….. (that is, all turn fruitless…..BSFI soldiers not allow me to go and worship the goddess Kali as well as to see and to talk to my daughter…..).”

“We have to take them back with tears rolling down their eyes. It is only at this Diwali festival, where we generally somehow manage to see a glimpse of our near and dear ones,” expressed Sandhya Saha, a native of IBV-Mahodipur, who also had to satisfy herself with a glimpse of her sister Minati Saha, through the IBWBF. Minati Saha lives in Shivganj village in the Chapai Nababganj district of Bangladesh, with her in laws.

Similarly, another neighbour of Aloka Devi, a resident of Bangladesh’s Chapai Nababganj district, emitted a great sigh and said, “I could neither touch the feet of the Mother Kali nor offer my prayer. My other neighbours of Shahapur village also expressed their disappointment by saying that they couldn’t meet their near and dear ones.”

One of the BSFI officials, posted at Mahadipur IBOP at the international border emphasized, “Please realize our position. We know the situation and admit it, but cannot do anymore. We’re bound to do all as per the instructions of the higher authority. Furthermore, it is our solemn duty to protect our ‘homeland’ from the hands of all types of miscreants and certainly from illegal Bangladeshi infiltrators, smugglers, Pan-Islamic religious fundamental groups, militants and others anti-national and anti-social activists, who are ready to soil our name and fame.”

“It is a true fact that as per old practice or tradition, the inhabitants of India and Bangladesh have a habit of getting themselves together and exchanging thoughts and transpose of life and living with one another. Their hopes are dashed to the ground due to the erection of IBWBF. As a result of this, the natives of both neighbouring states cannot meet or get together properly.

Thus, this barbed wire fence stands as a barrier in the way of the union of the peoples of the two lands,” one man said. He had gone to the festival ground hoping to participate in the puja-cum-fair.

Hearing this, Minati Saha, Mamata Chowdhury, Renubala Saha and others, natives of India and Bangladesh now have plunged into the ocean of disappointment and are forced to go back to their homes, unsatisfied.